Macro Photography Tells the Story of a Product - dummies

Macro Photography Tells the Story of a Product

By Thomas Clark

Small product photography sometimes requires you to give more than a literal depiction. A good product shot can tell viewers how something is used, where it’s from, the feeling it’s meant to provide, and who’s expected to use it. You still need to show the product in a clear, descriptive manner, but also in a way that gives it a sense of personality.

Choose an environment for the product

A small product’s environment consists of supporting details that help viewers to make associations with the product. For example, you might use a colored background; color plays provides suggestions for moods and feelings in photography.

For example, a razor blade photographed in a light blue environment can appear smooth, cool, and refreshing to viewers. The same subject photographed in a red environment can cause viewers to feel threatened and possibly associate the razor with blood.

The color scheme of your subject’s surroundings should help to say something good about the subject.

Props and background elements provide more information. A razor blade photographed in the presence of a brush kit would suggest that the razor is for a man who takes his time shaving, and considers himself to be refined or classy. The same razor photographed in the shower might appeal to someone who’s more efficient or on the go.

Props and background elements also provide scale for a product. A subject photographed on a plain white background doesn’t present any information on the size of the subject. Placing elements of a known dimension near the subject help to determine its size. In this photograph the props give a sense of size to the subject.


50mm, 1/160, f/16, 100

Effective choices in photo composition

When composing a small product shot, consider the size of the subject in your frame. In this photograph, the product’s dominant size in the frame helps it to steal the show. The background details give you information on the subject’s purpose but play a minor role in the overall composition. It’s very clear who’s the star in this scene.


100mm, 1/15, f/11, 100

Not all products have a visual appeal. Would a piece of cheese look more appetizing surrounded by a solid white environment, or surrounded by crackers, wine, and fruits? If a specific subject is weak on its own and requires help of its environment to look best, then allow more of the frame’s space for the supporting elements. This reduces emphasis on the subject and allows more on its associations.

When using this type of composition, try to arrange your shot so viewers can easily know what the subject is. This photograph reveals the main subject clearly by following these techniques:

  • Arrange the leading lines to lead to your subject. Leading lines are design elements that tell viewers subconsciously where to look in a frame. Anything that creates a visual line can be used as a leading line, such as the crease where two objects meet, the edge of an object, the horizon, or a row of objects.

  • Position the subject in a strong area of the frame according to the rule of thirds. By imagining vertical and horizontal gridlines that break the frame into thirds, you can locate the most visually striking areas for placing a subject — the points where the lines of thirds intersect.

  • Create visual contrast in the area of the subject. The highest contrast area in a frame draws a viewer’s attention. Placing a bright subject in front of a dark background or a dark subject in front of a light background helps to create this contrast.


100mm, 1/160, f/5.6, 100

  • Leave room for copy. You may need to leave space for text. Commercial clients often provide a layout that specifies where the product should be positioned, its size in the frame, and where the copy will ultimately be placed.